Judy Wicks

Businessperson, Activist : b. 1947
I'm helping to create an economic system that will respect and protect the earth -- one which would replace corporate globalization with a global network of local living economies. Business is beautiful when it's a vehicle for serving the common good.


In 2004, Inc. magazine named Judy Wicks one of America's 25 most fascinating entrepreneurs, "because she's put in place more progressive business practices per square foot than any other entrepreneur." Founder and CEO of the White Dog Café in Philadelphia, she is also co-founder and chair of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) and of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia (SBA).

"Wicks started the White Dog Cafe as a simple muffin shop on the first floor of her house in 1983 and grew it into a "Philly institution," with over 100 employees including the adjacent retail store, the Black Cat.  Best known for buying organic produce, and pastured meat and poultry from local family farmers (to whom she occasionally lends money to help expand their operations), the Cafe also acts as a center for dialogue on progressive issues with frequent speakers, storytelling, film series, and local and international tours.  The company contributes 20% of its profits to the White Dog Cafe Foundation with programs aimed at growing a local living economy in the Philadelphia region. The café also supports alternative energy by investing in wind-generated power to replace the electricity it uses.

The recipient of many local and national awards and contributor to several publications, Judy Wicks is a frequent guest on lecture platforms as well as on radio and television. She learned from Gandhi that "Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good." As she expresses it, "Non-cooperation began for me by refusing to be part of the factory farm system. This motivated me to create an alternative system. What came first though was the moral obligation to non-cooperate with a system I saw as evil."

Alice Waters

Chef, Author : b. 1944
In fact, industrial farming and fast food operate hand in glove, very much like a vast conspiracy. Together they suppress variety, limit our choices, and manipulate our desires by getting us hooked on sugar and salt. What we are calling for is a revolution in public education -- a real Delicious Revolution. When the hearts and minds of our children are captured by a school lunch curriculum, enriched with experience in the garden, sustainability will become the lens through which they see the world.


To Alice Waters, food is not just a necessity that sustains life. Nor is it just a profession for this award-winning chef. Food represents an integral part of our civilization, a part Waters fears is disappearing in a culture of junk food consumption.

 Waters earned a degree in French Cultural Studies in 1967 at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1965, when Waters was studying abroad in Paris, she discovered a natural connection between people and the food they ate and developed her own passion for food. She saw that "there is an intimate connection between food and the quality of one's life." Waters brought that knowledge back to California and in 1971 opened her restaurant Chez Panisse. In the eighties she opened Café Fanny, named for her daughter.

Chez Panisse uses the freshest food available to create the changing daily menus. She works with seasonal produce and relies on local farmers´ markets for supplies. Waters firmly supports establishing small, sustainable communities where people buy from local farmers and eat the healthiest food available.

Alice Waters is convinced that the fast food culture is not only unhealthy, but that it is destroying our sense of community. Where once people interacted with friends and family over a meal, we now are apt to grab a packaged meal and eat on the run. As Waters says, "We must value and respect each other, and we learn best how to do this at the table. And since the family meal has become more and more rare, we must start thinking about what the schools can do to teach these lessons."

In 1994 with these concerns in mind, Waters helped develop the Edible Schoolyard program at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. On a vacant lot adjacent to the school, a garden was planted, and all of the students began receiving lessons in gardening and cooking.

Waters wanted children to learn where food really comes from and to take pride in having a hand in the whole process of making the food they eat. As a bonus, the children would eat healthier food, which would help combat the country´s alarming obesity problem. Says Waters, "What we are calling for is a revolution in public education--a real Delicious Revolution. When the hearts and minds of our children are captured by a school lunch curriculum, enriched with experience in the garden, sustainability will become the lens through which they see the world."

The Edible Schoolyard Program has worked so well that it has been adopted in other schools around the country. The King School has expanded its garden and even added chickens into the mix. Most importantly, every student helps with all of the work, and healthy meals are always the order of the day.

Sandra Steingraber

Scientist, Writer, Environmental Activist : b. 1959
We are all musicians in a great human orchestra, and it is now time to play the Save the World Symphony. You are not required to play a solo, but you are required to know what instrument you hold and play it as well as you can. You are required to find your place in the score. What we love we must protect. That’s what love means. From the right to know and the duty to inquire flows the obligation to act.


Sandra Steingraber spent most of her childhood in Tazewell County, Illinois, an area dominated by industrial agriculture and manufacturing. Her mother, a microbiologist and her father, a community college professor was influenced by Rachel Carson. He stimulated his daughter´s interest in sustainability and organic agriculture. When Steingraber was diagnosed with bladder cancer in college, she suspected that there was a cancer cluster in her hometown and her family.  Once in remission, she began her life-long exploration of the environmental links to cancer and human health. 

During her search, Steingraber began to study Rachel Carson. "For my father, who served as a teenage soldier in Naples where the pesticide DDT was first deployed, Silent Spring was an antidote to wartime thinking....For me...Silent Spring was the reason I left the laboratory and became a science writer. Silent Spring was my father's armistice. It was my call to arms."

Steingraber calls Carson her "guiding spirit" and portrays herself as "laboring away in the vineyards that Rachel Carson planted, trying on a daily basis to find a language to talk with the public about various technical subjects."

Steingraber's highly acclaimed book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, presents cancer as a human rights issue. Originally published in 1997, it was the first comprehensive effort to bring together data on toxic releases from US cancer registries. It won praise from the national and international media.

A 2010 documentary by The People's Picture Company of Toronto, Living Downstream, is based on the book and follows Steingraber's travels across North America, as she works to break the silence about cancer and its links to the environment.

Steingraber's next book, Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood, explores the intimate ecology of motherhood. Both a memoir of her own pregnancy and an investigation of fetal toxicology, Having Faith reveals the extent to which environmental hazards now threaten each stage of infant development.  In the eyes of an ecologist, the mother's body is the first environment for life. The Library Journal selected Having Faith as a best book of 2001, and it was featured in a PBS documentary by Bill Moyers.

In her most recent book, Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, published in 2011, Steingraber identifies a safe environment as a human rights issue and explores the challenges and solutions to the ongoing chemical contamination of our children and our biosphere. Through individual stories, she relates how family routines are inextricably connected to public health issues: "Sunburn at the beach is linked to the stability of the ozone layer, which, in turn, is threatened by particular pesticides used in the production of tomatoes and strawberries." Through her explorations, Steingraber suggests that we must realign our environmental policies to protect our children's healthy development and free ourselves from dependence on fossil fuels in all their toxic forms.

Called "a poet with a knife" by Sojourners magazine, Steingraber was named a Ms. Magazine "Woman of the Year" and later received the Jennifer Altman Foundation's first annual Altman Award for "the inspiring and poetic use of science to elucidate the causes of cancer."  The Sierra Club has called Steingraber "the new Rachel Carson," and Carson's own alma mater, Chatham College, awarded her its biennial Rachel Carson Leadership Award. In 2006, Steingraber received a Hero Award from the Breast Cancer Fund, and in 2009, the Environmental Health Champion Award from Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles. Steingraber was the 2011 recipient of the Heinz Award for extraordinary service to the environment.

Steingraber has delivered the keynote addresses at conferences on human health and the environment throughout the United States and Canada and has lectured at many universities, medical schools, and hospitals—including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, and the Woods Hole Research Center.  She is recognized for her ability to serve as a translator between scientists and activists.  She has testified in the European Parliament, before the President's Cancer Panel, and has participated in briefings to Congress and before United Nations delegates in Geneva, Switzerland. She is currently a regular columnist for Orion Magazine.

For a number of years Sandra Steingraber  and her family lived just east of Ithaca in a log cabin in the woods, adjacent to wetlands where the "frogs kept them awake at night." They drew their water from a well and belonged to a community organic farm and a cooperative grocery store. Although they loved the rural nursery school that their daughter Faith attended, Sandra and her husband Jeff felt compelled to withdraw her when they learned that the play structures were impregnated with dangerous amounts of arsenic. 

When they discovered during a move that their television set had been stolen out of the back of their truck, they decided not to replace it. The result is that their children don´t experience television advertising.  As a result, their food preferences have been shaped by their direct experience with the food itself and the farmers who grow it.  No television commercials attract them with pictures of sweetened cereals and bubbly colas. Currently the family lives in a 1000 square foot house with a push mower, a clothesline, and a vegetable garden.

Sandra Steingraber has devoted her life to advocating for the human right to a toxic free environment. In an essay entitled "Mind Games" (Orion Magazine, March/April 2011), she wrote:

"So don't give me any more shopping tips or lists of products to avoid. Don't put neurotoxicants in my furniture and food and then instruct me to keep my children from breathing or eating them. Instead give me federal regulations that assess chemicals for their ability to alter brain development and function before they are allowed access to the marketplace...Give me chemical reform based on precautionary principles. Give me an architectural system that doesn't impair our children's learning ability or their future." 


Upton Sinclair

Author : 1878 - 1968
[W]as one to believe that there was nowhere a god of hogs, to whom this hog personality was precious, to whom these hog-squeals and agonies had a meaning? Who would take this hog into his arms and comfort him, reward him for his work well done, and show him the meaning of his sacrifice?
  • Sinclair wrote over 80 books. 
  • His 1927 book, Oil!, was the basis for the 2007 feature film, There Will be Blood.
  • In 1934, he ran for governor of California. 
  • In 1943, he was awared the Pulitzer Prize, his only major literary award. 
  • In 1967, when he was 89, President Lyndon Johnson invited Sinclair to the White House for the signing of the Wholesome Meat Act. 



Upton Sinclair both disrupted and documented his era. The impact of his most famous work, The Jungle, would merit him a place in American history had he never written another book. Yet he wrote nearly eighty more, publishing most of them himself. What Sinclair did was both simple and profound: he committed his life to helping people of his era understand how society was run, by whom and for whom. His aim was nothing less than to "bury capitalism under a barrage of facts," as Howard Zinn described it. One fact he tried repeatedly to teach was that capitalism and democracy are incompatible: "One of the necessary accompaniments of capitalism in a democracy is political corruption."

When Upton Sinclair introduced himself to American readers in 1906 with the publication of The Jungle, his exposé of the meatpacking industry, he was only twenty-five years old. His intent was to awaken the public conscience over the horrendous conditions slaughterhouse workers were forced to endure. Sinclair was appalled that the public reaction to his book was to demand higher health standards for the meat products but ignore the workers. He said, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

For the next six decades, he would remain an unconventional, often controversial, and always innovative character in American life. He was also a filmmaker, a labor activist, a women's rights advocate, and a health pioneer on the grandest scale.

At the beginning of the 20th century, investigative journalism was just being conceived, and Sinclair's undercover reporting on the conditions in a meatpacking plant may have been its birthing moment.  He was one of the original muckrakers. Filmmaking was beginning to change the way stories were told and how people gained access to information. His friends were experimenting with sexual freedom and birth control, but the shadow of alcoholism was beginning to take its toll in the radical community, and Sinclair would record his own assessment of the dangers of alcohol in his novel — and later film — The Wet Parade.

Sinclair critiqued institutions ranging from organized religion to journalism to education. These analyses remain surprisingly relevant. The problems with education and with media concentration, which Sinclair identified so presciently in 1920, have become impossible to ignore nearly one hundred years later.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, organized labor was struggling with the question of how to cope with the emergent hegemony of large-scale corporate capitalism. He had written many articles from Colorado about the coal miners' strikes, the labor conditions and the Ludlow Massacre (1914), but the corporate friendly newspapers had refused to publish them. Sinclair responded by organizing a daily picket of Rockefeller headquarters in New York City to show support for embattled coal miners in Colorado.

That same year he wrote a science fiction novel, The Millennium, which predicted what life would be like in 2013 with startling accuracy. Sinclair demonstrated not only how a writer attempts to change history through literature but also lends his or her personality to the political struggles of the times. A conscious creator of popular history, Sinclair himself starred in one of the first pro-labor films every made, The Jungle, in 1914. He wrote Boston to document the Sacco-Vanzetti trial; Oil! exposed the depredations of the oil industry in California; Singing Jailbirds in 1924 recorded the imprisonment of Wobblies, members of the International Workers of the World union, in Los Angeles.

In his sixties, Sinclair wrote a series of antifascist spy novels, the World's End series. The series was, as Dieter Herms has noted, "antifascist propaganda entertainingly packaged in the wrappers of popular literature." The books garnered him best-seller status again, and in 1942 he became the oldest author to receive a Pulitzer Prize. 

For Sinclair, his books were significant only to the degree that they exerted social influence, as the concluding pages of his autobiography reveal. He asks himself, "Just what do you think you have accomplished in your long lifetime?" and then provides ten answers. All involve social change in which his books were instrumental. Nowhere in this list of accomplishments is there a judgment that any of his novels represent an exclusively literary achievement. He often reflected, though, on why even the victims of unjust conditions were reluctant to demand change: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Part of Sinclair's political analysis was that a healthy and sober personal life would make him a more effective agent of change — an early understanding of what would become a radical injunction that the personal is political. Sinclair, writes critic William Bloodworth, made "an unusually vigorous attempt to combine questions of food with political propaganda."  His mother's temperance beliefs and his father's alcoholism made him a lifelong crusader both for Prohibition and for temperance.

Indeed, Upton Sinclair was a man who challenged conventional masculinity. In that sense, he was ahead of his own time and vitally relevant to ours. He was a radical much influenced by women. His interest in communal living and communal childcare is quite unusual. His reading of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's theories on domestic labor and public life inspired his founding of the utopian colony Helicon Hall in 1906, created to allow both men and women full lives as artists and activists. 

Upton Sinclair's activism spanned half a century, and he wrote book after book in an effort to draw others to his causes. As his son, David, recalled, "My father used to say, I don't know if anyone will care to examine my heart after I die. But if they do, they will find two words there: social justice." Because Sinclair was so passionately engaged in the world around him, his story is inextricably linked to the major struggles that gave his life meaning.


Stephen Ritz

Teacher : b.
The greatest natural resource in the world is the unused and untapped potential residing in underserved, marginalized, and low status communities.


In the midst of the tall buildings, bright lights, and world renowned restaurants of the city that never sleeps and sports the nickname "The Big Apple", exist food deserts. One of these, a part of the South Bronx where  45,000 people within a 8 block radius have no easy access to nutritious groceries, has become the laboratory for a hyperactive, former basketball player who's using his cheerful enthusiasm to turn a desert into an oasis of healthy food. "I'm not a farmer. I'm a people farmer. My favorite crop is organically grown citizens," says the tall, skinny guy wearing a floppy cheese hat, bow tie and "Si Se Puede" t-shirt. That's educator, author, and urban farmer Stephen Ritz.

The son of immigrants, Steve Ritz discovered early on that any kid could learn if supported by a nurturing environment. When he became a teacher himself he sought out those considered to be the toughest cases, the poor kids, the special-ed kids, the kids who barely spoke English, and those with criminal records or from broken homes. To their classroom he brought faith in the idea that education could change lives, and, perhaps most importantly, high expectations. "We have to stop placing the blame on poverty," he writes in his book The Power of a Plant. "Poor kids can rise to high expectations, but first you have to have those expectations." After getting his Masters in Education from Arizona State University, Ritz would return to the Bronx where he grew up and got his start teaching and dive back into the schools responsible for educating the children of the poorest congressional district in the whole country. He and his students surprised people. They did so well that some of Ritz's colleagues became resentful.

Part of his secret? Realizing that "if we were going to address the root problems that challenge children, we need to let children self-identify the problems they perceive as the impediments to their success," writes Ritz.

The phrase "root problems" took on new meaning for Ritz in 2004. Not knowing what they were, Ritz stuck a box of daffodil bulbs under his classroom radiator. When the students discovered them in bloom, they were entranced. Soon landscaping and ornamental gardening became schoolwork for the newly minted "Green Team." His gardening students were featured in the news and awarded the Golden Daffodil Award by the New York City Council. In 2005, they started growing vegetables. This marked the beginning of an empowering journey that Ritz has called "From Crack to Cucumbers."

Now his students have grown more than 50,000 pounds of healthy vegetables. On the fourth floor of the 100-year-old school building in a neighborhood where, to quote the educator, Jonathan Kozol, "Nobody says we're going to make [young people] less separate and more equal,"  lives a green house, better known as the Green Bronx Machine. That is where Ritz and his students plant, water, study, grow and produce vegetables that they share with the greater Bronx community. Ritz and his team of students built the first Indoor edible wall in New York City and his project based learning program has led to dramatic improvements in school attendance -- from 40% to 93% percent. More impressively, 100% of students get passing grades. 

So, where does the food go? "Zero miles to plate or to local shelters where kids are getting one to two meals a day," says Ritz. And if you ask, he will tell you that he and his students are growing their way into a new economy. In one of his inspiring TedX talks, Ritz says, "Our park feeds hundreds of people without a food stamp or a fingerprint."

In a poor corner of America where 37% of the population struggles with food insecurity and 59% of kids live below the poverty line, Ritz and his students are changing business as usual. He believes, "kids should not have to leave their community to live, learn and earn a better one", and based on that belief and his brilliance they no longer have to.  The Green Bronx Machine promotes and disseminates the lessons he and his students have learned about growing good food.

His work has been recognized in New York and beyond. Among Ritz's accolades are the 2016 Project Based Learning Champion Award, 2016 Health Champion Award, 2016 Dr. Oz Award, 2015 BAMMY Laureate – Elementary Educator of the Year Award, 2014 Greenius Award, 2014 Green Difference Award, 2013 Latin Trends Award, the NYC Chancellor's Award and various others.

It is fair to say, paraphrasing Ritz himself, that the most important seeds he has planted and seen grow and bloom are the young people right in his community were a series of "collisions, connections, and co-learnings" are transforming residents' sense of place.



Cecile Richards

Women's Rights Activist : b. 1957
Where's the common ground in this country? It's in helping young people get access to sex education, to help them prevent an unintended pregnancy, to finish school if they want to and live their dreams. I have yet to meet a parent who was excited about their teenager getting pregnant before finishing school.


In December 2015, Planned Parenthood's national president, Cecile Richards, spoke at a Unitarian church near Denver, Colorado. Richards' voice was calm and resolute as she talked about her commitment to serve those who come to Planned Parenthood for health care. Richards was honoring Planned Parenthood staff and volunteers for their steadfast courage and commitment to care after a violent attack on their center a week earlier. She said, "We've seen thousands of patients since last Friday, and will see millions this year…these doors stay open."  

Despite a history of facing organized opposition, attempts at intimidation, arson and violence,  Planned Parenthood has become the most popular healthcare institution in the United States because they offer the healthcare and service their clients, mostly women, want and need…including abortion to those who freely choose that option.

Cecile Richards knows that if decisions related to contraception and abortion are to remain private, the fight to preserve them must be made public.  And that public must be encouraged to vote in the best interests of themselves and their families.  Richards and Planned Parenthood's "Action Fund" are key elements in a broad national campaign to identify, register and motivate pro-choice women to vote; run for public office and replace those elected officials afraid to stand up to those who are on the wrong side of American women and their healthcare.  

Planned Parenthood's doors first opened in 1916, despite active opposition.  At the time, women with low incomes and no reliable means of managing their fertility lived with large families in tiny tenement apartments. Methods of contraception were illegal and maternal death was common. So, too, were dangerous – often fatal – illegal abortions. Margaret Sanger, the nurse who founded the first birth control clinic in the United States, was jailed for her efforts but prevailed to become the founder of an organization that has lasted over one hundred years.

In 2006, Cecile Richards became president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "The reason I took this job," she said, "is I feel like we need to go into the 21st century. Clearly, with some folks in the country, we're going to get there kicking and screaming."

Born in Waco, Texas in 1957, Cecile Richards grew up focused on social justice. In seventh grade, she wore a black armband to school to protest the war in Vietnam.  She was sent to the principal's office and scolded for her protest – an experience that helped spark a lifelong passion for activism.

In 1980, Cecile graduated with a B.A. from Brown University and, like her father, became involved in labor issues. From Texas to New Orleans to California, she worked as a labor organizer of low-wage workers. When her mother Ann Richards ran for governor of Texas in 1990, Cecile worked on her campaign. In 1995, concerned with the conservative trends in Texas, Cecile founded the Texas Freedom Network to mobilize support for progressive causes. Later, she became deputy chief of staff for California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who is currently the minority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2004, before taking her current role, Cecile Richards was the founding president of America Votes, an organization promoting progressive issues. She is married to Kirk Adams, a labor organizer, and they have three children.

As Planned Parenthood approached its centenary in 2016, Cecile Richards was confronted with an attempt by anti-abortion activists to discredit the organization by surreptitiously recording conversations between medical staff and health center workers. The recordings were then edited to make it appear that fetal tissue collected at Planned Parenthood health centers was being provided for research in violation of laws governing donations by patients.

A defining event in the attempt to discredit Planned Parenthood came when the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, chaired by then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, interrogated Cecile Richards. For five grueling hours, majority committee members interrupted and talked over Richards. With the allegations against Planned Parenthood losing credibility, committee members attacked Richards and Planned Parenthood on unrelated issues. When the hearing was over, Rep. Chaffetz conceded that his committee found no wrongdoing. Richards said, "If more members of the Senate and Congress could get pregnant, we wouldn't be fighting about Planned Parenthood."

Despite the threats and political attacks, support for Planned Parenthood continues to grow.  One in five American women has used Planned Parenthood's services. A survey by Fox News on March 15, 2017 found that the most popular people, organizations, and causes in the country were Bernie Sanders and Planned Parenthood, followed by Obamacare. According to Richards, "We see young women with low incomes. Nearly 75 percent of our patients live at 150 percent of the federal poverty level or below. For many of them, we are the only place they can get access to affordable health care. Planned Parenthood is the safety net in this country…if you're concerned about preventing unintended pregnancy, you should triple the funding for Planned Parenthood."

Planned Parenthood is the preeminent provider of and advocate for reproductive health care in the United States, with more than 600 health centers serving 2.4 million men and women each year. Still, the services of the Planned Parenthood health centers are vulnerable. They face a Congress and an administration poised to eliminate the rights and services made possible by Planned Parenthood.

Cecile Richards, who steps down from leading Planned Parenthood in 2018, has carried the torch of a truth that has echoed for more than 100 years. As Margaret Sanger once said, "No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother." For some, that truth is as revolutionary today as it was then.


Florence Reed

Environmental Activist for Sustainable Farming and Rain Forest Protection : b. 1968
A farmer in a remote village in Honduras is providing us with organic coffee, providing winter habitat for our song birds, stabilizing our global climate, preserving the forests that are the source of most of our medicines, creating oxygen to breathe and protecting the coral reefs from siltation as a result of deforestation. So if a poor farmer in Honduras can do all this for us, what can we do for him?


A farmer clears a few acres of rainforest and plants corn and beans, growing just enough to feed his family.  Each year, yields are a little smaller, the soil a little more depleted.  After a few years, the family moves on, leaving behind a moonscape of barren soil. On a new patch of land, the process begins again, slashing and burning rainforest to create a new field.

"I saw the rainforest destruction—and the poverty—with my own eyes," says Florence Reed, who joined the Peace Corps when she graduated from the University of New Hampshire.  She was stationed in Central America, where more than half the rainforest has been destroyed in the last 50 years.

Reed drew on her degree in environmental conservation, as well as on her own informal research, to facilitate reforestation efforts for villagers in Santa Rita, Panama. She was pleased with the results of the reforestation efforts.  But she also realized that the forests would continue to be destroyed unless farmers were given significant technical assistance. Learning sustainable farming practices would allow them to grow on the same land every year and keep them from burning new swaths of forest.   That realization sparked Reed's determination to devote her life to saving the rainforest.

She launched Sustainable Harvest International (SHI) out of a spare bedroom in her parents' New Hampshire home in 1997. Since those early days that were fueled by Reed´s vision and a little start-up funding, SHI has reached more than 1800 families in 120 communities in Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua and Panama. SHI farmers have helped to save thousands of acres of tropical forest, planted 2.5 million trees and raised their income by as much as eight-times.

"As far as I know, we are the only organization in the world providing long-term technical assistance to rural families in the tropics, offering them alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture," says Reed, who shuttles back and forth between two very different worlds.  In Central America, she makes her way by burro, by boat and by foot to villages deep in the rainforest.  During the rainy season, she has been stuck thigh-deep in mud. "This is when it dawns on me what it means to be the director of an international nonprofit," she laughs. The other half of Reed's time is spent in the United States visiting donors, reporting on SHI's progress and hoping for more funding to expand the work.  As President of the organization, Reed spends her time bringing together a wide variety of individuals to create a better future, including Central American farmers, Central American staff, board members, US staff, donors and other supporters. In recent years she has received an honorary doctorate for her work, along with many awards such as the Yves Rocher Women of the Earth award and the Etown E-chievement award.  She was chosen to be a Delegate at the 2009 Opportunity Collaboration, a 4 day conference where some of the world's major agents of change explore ways to turn the tide of poverty.

"When people work together, things change for the better," says Reed.   "I know that together we can expand peoples' realization that we can all have a role, big or small, in making the world a better place." 

Michael Pollan

Journalist, Professor : b. 1955
…what the industrial food chain does best: obscure the histories of foods it produces by processing them to such an extent that they appear as pure products of culture rather than nature… Our food system depends on consumers not knowing much about it beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner. Cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing.


Michael Pollan is changing the way Americans think about food. Most of his books and articles investigate the perils of the industrial food chain—and the benefits and pleasures of freeing ourselves from it.

 "[T]he way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world," Pollan wrote in The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006). In the book, he traced four food chains—industrial, big organic, local farm, and hunter-gatherer—to examine how what we eat affects our health and the health of the environment.

Pollan warns that industrial farming has grown detached from the ecological cycles of nature, with grave consequences. He illustrates this by tracing the origins of a fast food meal to the mass production of cheap corn, which relies on genetic engineering and massive amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Industrial corn is fed to cows and other animals on factory farms, which treat animals inhumanely, pollute the environment and contribute to drug-resistant bacteria through overuse of antibiotics. This same corn is used to produce high fructose corn syrup, a ubiquitous sweetener that has been linked with obesity, Type II diabetes and other health problems. 

In addition to critiquing agribusiness, Pollan also investigates alternatives. He writes, in the Omnivore's Dilemma, about Joel Salatin's Polyface Farms as a model of sustainable farming. Pollan concludes his investigation into the ethics, philosophy, economics and psychology of eating by hunting and gathering his own meal.

The Omnivore's Dilemma spurred a national conversation about how Americans eat. In response, Pollan wrote In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (2008), in which he observes that a mainstay of the American diet is not real food, but "edible food-like substances" manufactured and promoted by what he calls "the Nutritional Industrial Complex." Pollan challenges "nutritionism" as an ideology that endangers our health and points out that Americans have grown sicker and fatter in spite of several decades of expert nutritional advice. Instead, he advises rather than obsessing about nutrients, to eat only unprocessed, well-grown foods that our great-grandparents would have recognized. One line from the book has become a mantra for healthy eating: "Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Pollan has become a leading advocate for reforming the nation's agricultural policies. In October 2008, he published an open letter to the "Farmer-in-Chief" in The New York Times Magazine urging the new President to make comprehensive food system reform a top priority of the new administration. "[U]nless you do, you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change," Pollan wrote. "[T]he way we currently grow, process, and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to solve them."

A contributing writer for The New York Times and a former executive editor for Harper's Magazine, Pollan wrote three books before The Omnivore´s Dilemma: Second Nature: A Gardener's Education (1991), A Place of My Own (1997) and The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World (2001). Most of his books and articles examine the relationships between humans and nature.

Pollan was born in Long Island, New York, to parents who are both writers. His mother, Corky, is a columnist and his father, Stephen, is an author and financial consultant. Pollan received a B.A. from Bennington College and an M.A. in English from Columbia University. He is married to the landscape painter Judith Belzer and is a professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.

Scott Nearing

Economist, Author, Organic Farmer : 1883 - 1983
Could this be the country I had loved, honored, worked for, believed in? The general welfare was forgotten. The land had become a happy hunting ground for adventurers, profiteers, and pirates who called history bunk and used their privileged positions to promote their careers and fill their pockets at the public expense. Peace, progress, and prosperity had become scraps of raw meat, thrown to a pack of venal, military minded ravenous wolves.


Scott Nearing, widely known for the book he wrote with his wife Helen, Living the Good Life: How to Live Simply and Sanely in a Troubled World, might not have thought that with his privileged upbringing he would end up "living off the land." His ideas, radical when he first taught them, are still part of the American debate about what qualifies as "the good life."

Nearing was born and raised in Pennsylvania. Thanks to the success of his grandfather and his parents, he grew up in a large house with a tutor and servants and surrounded by books and art to feed his intellectual curiosity. Rather than follow his father and grandfather into business, he developed a new philosophy of social awareness different from his family´s values. Nearing began writing and speaking against capitalism and the acquisition of money and "things" as the route to happiness.

After leaving law school, Nearing went to the University of Pennsylvania´s Wharton School of Business. He received a PhD in 1909 and eventually began teaching economics and sociology.

Nearing´s criticisims of American capitalism targeted "the philosophy of life which has gripped a part of the American population—the philosophy: 'Be rich and you will be happy.'" In his 1913 book Social Sanity: A Preface to the Book of Social Progress, he writes, "If wants are limitless, and increasing faster than income, which is limited, and if the difference between wants and income measures the extent of dissatisfaction, or misery, then, so long as men seek their satisfaction in material things, relying upon goods for happiness, they are pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp which flies from them faster than they can ever pursue."

This view of an America becoming increasingly unhappy as it values making money and acquiring goods rather than finding happiness in other aspects of life made Nearing popular as a social activist. His views also got him dismissed from his position as a professor at Wharton.

Undaunted, Nearing began speaking against World War I and became a member of the Socialist Party. He also began lecturing at the Rand School of Social Science. Here, his writings became even more sharply pointed and critical of what America had become. In The American Empire,he wrote, "Steam, transportation, industrial development, city life, business organization, expansion across the continent—these are the factors that have made of the United States a nation utterly apart from the nation of which those who signed the Declaration of Independence and fought the Revolution dreamed….These economic changes have brought political changes. The American Republic has been thrust aside. Above its remains towers a mighty imperial structure—the world of business—bulwarked by usage and convention; safeguarded by legislation, judicial interpretation, and the whole power of organized society. That structure is the American Empire—as real to-day as the Roman Empire in the days of Julius Caesar..."

In the 1930s, Nearing and his second wife, Helen, bought property in Vermont to begin a new life of living off the land. In 1954, Living the Good Life was published. The Nearings traveled, wrote, and continued to spread their anti-war, pro-peace message, all the while devoted to their "old-fashioned" homesteading way of living. Eventually they moved their life to Maine.  In the mid-1960s, during the tumultuous years of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, Scott Nearing's anti-war message and his and Helen's sustainable lifestyle inspired a younger generation´s "back-to-the-land".

Scott Nearing continued his writing and his work on the land into his nineties. He died after turning one hundred in 1983. He left behind an extensive body of work and the idea that a life lived simply can lead to satisfaction. 

Perry Mann

Teacher, Lawyer, Writer : b. 1921
No lobbyist can bribe nature. In the end all politicians and everyone else must accept nature’s mandates and the consequences of violating them. In that is my optimism.


Perry Mann was born on the 12th day of March 1921, in a cottage on Russell Street in Charleston, West Virginia, to a young couple who had left the country for the city after World War I. He grew up there during the Roaring Twenties, a time when men gambled recklessly on the market and women cut their hair, shortened their skirts and took up smoking cigarettes.

The Great Depression quieted the roar and brought financial havoc to his family. But it was a disguised blessing in that it caused him to leave Charleston to live with his grandparents on a farm near Hinton, West Virginia, where he learned to work and to live intimately with nature.

He enlisted in the Army Air Corps three days after Pearl Harbor. During the four years he spent in the army, he began to focus on what he wanted to do with his life. The GI Bill of Rights allowed him to attend Washington and Lee University where he acquired a degree in the liberal arts and discovered Plato, Tolstoy and Dickens, among others.

He taught in the public schools of Virginia until he was summarily fired for writing letters to the editor raging against Virginia's racist reaction to the court-ordered desegregation of its public schools. He eventually returned to Washington and Lee and acquired a law degree and, in 1972, settled in Hinton to practice law.

As the consequence of a life-long friendship with a friend who inherited a weekly newspaper in Nicholas County, WV, he began in 1992 to write a column for the Nicholas Chronicle. A friend collected some of the columns and prefaced them with the following words:

"Perry Mann is among the most thoughtful, informed and articulate
progressive thinkers and writers in America today. He writes deeply
on wide-ranging issues, including politics, ecology, history,
economics, civil rights, religion, philosophy, and rural life. He has
produced what may be the most cogent collection of critiques of the
Religious Right to ever appear in this country."

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